An elderly woman limped into my office on a wooden cane. Like the others shuffling impatiently outside the grimy windows of the immigration office, she needed into the country. Unlike the others, she wasn't just visiting. She was coming home. She sunk into the cold steel chair in front of the office window and shuffled through her only noticeable belonging; a small, faded, emerald green purse.
"Papers please" I said disinterestedly as I checked my watch. The dusty hands audibly creaked as they announced five o'clock. Just one hour and I need three more. Come on lady, hurry up. I witnessed her frustration as it wrote itself into her wrinkles and refracted in the lenses of cracked bifocals. I was about to send her away when a smile fluttered across her frail, delicate cheeks. She reminded me of my mother.
"Here you are." she said, sliding her passport and identification card through the small slot in the office window. "This is all I need right?" I nodded and quickly set to work comparing her information and checking it with the updated regulations guidebook. This was only my first week so I was still learning the ropes, but because of a recent terrorist attack outside the office, the new regulations were being compounded almost daily. So far so good; date of birth, correct; expiration date is good; everything seems to be in order. But just as I was about to stamp her papers for approval a small detail caught my eye.
"My son is sick you see..." she droned. Most people think that if they tell me their story, I'll let them through based on that alone. But if you listen to every single one, your mirror will start to look down on you. So you build a mental barrier and they become just voices in a crowd. "I left the country before the war to visit family." The war had separated a lot of families, she's not so special I tell myself. "Only about a week to live." The familiar sound of tissues scraping against wet cheeks. I haven't seen my mom in years.
You can't let this one go. One more violation and I would have been taken away in chains by the Arstotzan security forces and my family would be thrown onto the street. This week it was food instead of heat, next week it'll be heat instead of food. What if my son gets sick? It'll be medicine instead of anything. After taking a long hollow breath, I stamped her papers in the negative, and handed them back. My eyes stuck in the cracks of my rotten desk, ashamed.
“I'm sorry, but you're gender is listed as Male instead of Female on your I.D. card. You'll have to get a new one." What life she had drained from her papery skin, shaking uncontrollably, as she tightly gripped the emerald green purse. Maybe she'll start shouting and I'll be able to detain her, that'll earn me a few extra bucks from the guards. My family will be fine for the next week. God I fucking hate myself.
"But, it's just a small mistake. Can’t you let me through? I have to see my son!" The guards outside the office winked and gripped the handles of their automatic weapons. My conscience has got me by the throat. "It'll take me about a month to get another identification card."
“I wish I could let you through, but I’ll be taken away if I let you pass and the security forces find out. My family could lose everything.” At that notion her figure seemed to resign itself to fate. Her mouth just hung in the air for minutes, staring past me, or through me, I couldn't be sure. Her eyes stole my thoughts as she gripped her cane in one tiny weak hand.
The cane crashed against the window as she pleaded "It'll be too late by then. I have to see him now.” In those gentle eyes I could see that she couldn't stop herself anymore than I could stop myself. I saw a child dying without his mother there to comfort him. I hate my job. The security forces rushed into the office and bashed the butts of their rifles into her glass skull. I could taste the rusty copper as it trickled down her temple and lost itself in the stains on the floor. Who am I?
“Thanks, another one and we’ll both get that bonus I was talking about.” The officer chuckled, a grin stitched into his cheek. The thought of money made me sick, but at least my boy would be fine for one more day.
After the officers carried away the disabled woman, a man heavy in shadows glided up to the window and slid a black, square envelope through the gap.
“The time is coming for a revolution friend.”
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